VIRTUAL ENGLISH HONORS CONFERENCE 2020
The Power of the Popular (or, All Our Faves Are Problematic)
Great job Leila! Stowe is definitely problematic and I’m glad you mentioned how childlike Tom is depicted. I really enjoyed this.
Thanks Reena 😊
^I second what Reena commented. You did a fantastic job unpacking Christianity and conversion as Stowe’s angle in UTC. Great use of secondary sources!
I learned a lot from your presentation, Leila, especially about Stowe’s interest in Swedenborg (via Kinmont).
I guess my biggest question is about reception of popular texts. Given your analysis of Stowe’s religious motives in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is it still possible for the text to be received as abolitionist in its force? That is, can (and did) readers/audiences take the novel–no matter what Stowe’s motives–as furthering abolition, even if, as you suggest, this might not have been Stowe’s main goal in constructing the novel? Can popular forms be taken up and used against their author’s stated intentions?
Thank you so much for your kind words Dr. Kruger. When I was researching all of this, it was extremely eye opening to me. The work of scholars like Josephine Donovan really opened my eyes to a lot of things.
I always go back to the reception of the novel by William Lloyd Garrison who stated that it appealed to the “heart rather than the head”. In this, I always felt that Stowe disregarded the concept of abolition that needed to be rooted in rational discourse rather than through sentimentality that was not rooted in secular matters. To me he then popular form of the “sentimental novel” did not allow for true abolition to take place where people were not controlled by outside forces that had some anterior motive.
The form of the novel, rooted in sentimentality, worked against Stowe in my opinion because it only reinforced the idea in the South that Northerners were “fanatics” that were out to control their way of life and to eradicate firmly entrenched institutions. The humiliation of some of the male Southern characters in the novel, like Mr. Haley, who had no control over his public sphere as a slave trader, reinforces this and is an attempt to subvert male dominance of the time.
The end result of the popularity of the novel may have been a call for abolition eventually but all of the evidence I found was rooted in the fact that Stowe’s true intent was the creation of a “sphere” of influence where free white characters could control enslaved people to be moved from one control (enslavement) to another (objectification).
Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Leila.
Very interesting! I love how you bring Swedenborgian divinity in critical conversation with the novel, opening readers to the centrality of conversion to Stowe’s conception (or lack thereof) of black emancipation. Your reading invites consideration of how an abolitionist movement legitimized by moral suasion (meaning made legible as a possible good in the historical moment and as good in our own moment because of the seeming absence of violence spearheaded by the enslaved, think Haiti or the black power movement of 1960s) cannot be divested from personal motives which can have little to do with the wants and needs of enslaved peoples. Excellent! Thank you for your reading.
Thank you so much , Dr. Leger.
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